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Dave did an excellent job of reviewing Romans 1 through 6, so I suggest that you go back and review his message on the Web site.  This week we will be back in chapter seven, so if you would open your Bibles with me and turn there, page _____________ in the house bibles if you don’t have one with you. 

I also wanted to mention that in a few weeks here, we are planning on spending a Sunday morning with a question and answer panel over anything we’ve studied so far in the book of Romans. At the speed we’re going through the book, we can’t cover every detail or explore every branch of theology that is touched on by Paul’s letter, so I’m sure that there are questions or things that aren’t clear. As those things come up, please take some time to e-mail those to Brad or I, or go ahead and text them to the number on the screen.

Speaking of questions, there were a few questions we got pretty consistently from different ones of you last week, a few things that weren’t clear that do have bearing on my section this week so I’m going to go ahead and do a brief review of Paul’s major points so far, in order to hopefully provide some clarity, but also to ramp in to our section today.

Romans 1-3: 

God’s righteousness is revealed in The Gospel through his wrath at unrighteousnesses and ungodliness of every single individual of mankind.  And through His free gift of grace and mercy offered in Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which leads to eternal life.

Romans 4

This promised eternal life comes only through faith in Jesus’s work for us, and not through our earning it through good deeds.

Romans 5

All those with faith in Christ’s work are now at peace with God and have access to more mercy and grace than any sin we could ever commit needs in order to be forgiven.

In fact, this grace isn’t simply an un-deserved gift. God’s grace is actually the opposite of what we deserve. It isn’t that we were simply given something we didn’t earn, but rather that we earned wrath, and what we got instead is righteousness!

HALLELUJIAH! 

Romans 6 

The question is: “So are we good then? We can just go on sinning?”

Romans 6:1 - 6:14 - Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

Romans 6:14 (ESV)

14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:15 - 7:6 - Shall we sin since we are not under the law?

Two kinds of people asking

Two kinds of people are going to ask this question: concerned legalists, and eager unbelieving, nominal (in-name-only) “Christians”. 

Those on the legalistic end of things will be concerned that Paul’s clear teaching on the fact that we are no longer under the law, but now God’s grace overflows toward repentant sinners, will cause people to believe that they are now free from all constraint! That there is now no longer a moral standard by which they must live.

On the other hand, the eager, unbelieving, nominal Christians will ask a form of this question, and claim “freedom in Christ!” when anyone exhorts them to a practical and specific moral stance. 

For example: I, along with several others in the wider church, posted on social media this weekend that a Christian should not, under any circumstances, go see the movie Deadpool. (Deadpool is a popular Marvel comic character, and there was much excitement that they were making a movie about him with a popular actor.)  

As a preface, I’m a comic book guy. I love comic book movies quite a lot. I grew up with comics. I know most of the characters and some super nerdy details about the various universes they live in. I probably know too much information about these things. But that is precisely why I am so concerned about the Deadpool movie, and the potential twin, Suicide Squad that is coming out this fall, though not much is known about its content yet.

Deadpool almost received an NC-17 rating for graphic nudity and sex, excessive violence, and extremely crass language. My statement was that a Christian who is pursuing holiness should have no desire to sit and pour that content into their mind for two hours, and pay $10 for the privilege.

And of course there was backlash for taking such a stance. The cry was “legalism” that Christianity is not about rules. That there is freedom in Christ. That artistic expression sometimes warrants such things, and the lamest retort I saw: “But I heard it was a really funny movie!” as if you are somehow culturally obligated to consume a maximum amount of comedy, at any expense. And on top of this, some of the responses said, God forgives sin, so no big deal.

Here’s the thing. That attitude, is in direct opposition the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6.

Now, if you saw the movie, don’t hear me saying all is now lost. I think that if you agree with the scriptures and are seeking to do God’s will, you should feel a bit of guilt about this. BUT, there IS a twin and opposite error that legalists do make, that they are made righteous through not watching movies. That is not how it works. Righteousness is a free gift of God, because of Christ’s work, received by faith, evidenced by repentance. There is always time to repent from ANY sin. But repentance IS required.

A moral standard still exists.

An Aside: Salvation-History

A foundation point I want to make just so we’re clear here. When Paul is talking about being free from the law, he is speaking specifically about the Mosaic law: the commands given to the nation of Israel, on Sinai, described in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy. This is important in terms of the unfolding history of God’s plan for His people. 

When we are reading Romans talking about the law, we have to understand that he is talking about a Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic law. Namely, that we are no longer under it at all. As Christians, we are no longer bound to express our faith in God, by observance of the rituals, commands, and regulations of the Mosaic law, because we have a new way. 

But, this does not mean that the law has no more purpose and that we can now ignore it! It still shows us what God’s righteous standard is! I’m sure this is probably raising questions for you about specific laws in the Old Testament, and perhaps that would be a good set of questions for the Q&A in a few weeks.

Back to the question

Paul addresses this question using two analogies in Romans 6:15 through 7:6

Two analogies: Slavery and Marriage

Slavery: Romans 6:16–18 (ESV)

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

Marriage: Romans 7:2–4 (ESV)

2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. 

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

And his conclusion on both analogies:

Romans 7:6 (ESV)

6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Romans 7:7 - 7:12 - Is the law sin?

No, it is holy and righteous and good, and accomplishing its purpose! Which is to define sin, highlight the presence and depth of sin in us. To show us that we are way worse than we consider ourselves to be.

Romans 7:13-7:23 - Did that which is good bring death to me?

NO, it is sin, using the law, that brought death! 

Romans 7:13–14 (ESV)

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

And now we’re coming up on one of the most difficult to unwind and controversial passages in the book of Romans. 

Romans 7:15–23 (ESV)

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 

16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 

20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

The difficulty surrounds who Paul is referring to, when he says “I”, and therefore, what we should expect as Christians. And I think it might help to unpack a brief history of theology to give us some context for an answer.

Historic Christian Understanding of Chapter 7

Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians of the early church, lived in the mid 300s to mid 400s AD. Early in his writings, he believed that the person being referred to in Romans 7 was an unbeliever, wrestling with his unbelief. But later in life, after a series of intense debates with a heretic named Pelagius, he later wrote that the person speaking in Romans 7 was, in fact, a believer, because in chapter 8, Paul says that the mind set on the flesh (or an unbeliever) is hostile to God, not delighting in God’s law!

This understanding became the standard teaching of the church, and was reemphasized at the reformation by Martin Luther and John Calvin. Within a couple hundred years, though a group called the pietists, and John Wesley (Methodists) and The Brethren Churches among them, noticed complacency toward sin that had become prevalent among Lutherans and Calvinists, who thought, well Romans 7 seems to teach that we are going to sin, so there is no urgency in fighting sin. 

Pietists reacted to this and thought that Romans 7 couldn’t be talking about a believer, if the result of that teaching was what they were seeing among the rest of the protestants. So they taught that it referred to an unbeliever, who was under conviction from the Holy Spirit for their sin.

The problem with this view, is that they taught that a believer will eventually no longer experience the inner struggle that Paul highlights here in chapter 7.

And I don’t know about you all, but this struggle has been my experience my entire Christian life. And many older pietistic types I know, including John Wesley himself late in his life, have admitted that this struggle never ends.

I think that both views seem to have their weak points, and it is actually interesting that Paul doesn’t seem to be too concerned with clarity on that issue. So what are we supposed to do? 

My view is closer to the classic protestant and Augustinian view, but with a firm rejection of anything leading toward the lackadaisicalness toward sin that the Pietists were so concerned about. Those who are not actively seeking to put sin to death, are not holding to the classic protestant position! 

Our experience as believers is what Paul describes here. You should expect to experience this struggle from time to time in certain areas BECAUSE, God intends for it to point you to your need for Christ.

We need to understand, and agree with Paul, that there is nothing good within our flesh, and until we are rid of our flesh, which will not be until our death, or The Lord’s return, we can expect this struggle.

Can we just go ahead and sin now that we are no longer under the law? No. Because God's purpose in having you "die to the law" through Christ was not so that you can just do whatever you want. But rather so that you could BELONG TO ANOTHER: namely, Christ himself, and obey God's law in the new "Way of The Spirit" rather than the old way of the letter.

So now, as believers, we see that God's law IS holy and just and good. Now (as opposed to before) actually desire to do it, as a faith-filled response of gratitude love to God. 

But when go to do it, we hit a second wall: we find we can't do it on our own.

Which drives us to our knees and leads us to cry out to God with the same question Paul asks next:

7:24-8:4 - Who will deliver me from this body of death!?

Romans 7:24–25 (ESV)

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

This gratitude toward God fuels a desire to obey, which re-proves our inability to obey on our own, which drives us to our knees and reinforces our need for Christ, which fuels a desire to obey which, which re-proves our inability.... which…. (and the cycle repeats).

And finally, the good news.

Romans 8:1–4 (ESV)

8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

There is no condemnation left for the Christian, because all of the condemning has already been done. The death sentence for your sin has already been delivered. So now we are to walk in the Spirit, which we will talk about next week. 

There is no condemnation left for the Christian, because all of the condemning has already been done. The death sentence for your sin has already been delivered. So now we are to walk in the Spirit, which we will talk about next week.